Fascism in a Pinstriped Suit,
excerpted from the book
by Michael Parenti
City Lights Books, 1996, paper
FASCISM IN A PINSTRIPED SUIT
Unless one was Jewish, or poor and unemployed, or actively leftist
or otherwise openly anti-Nazi, Germany from 1933 until well into
the war was not a nightmarish place. All the "good Germans"
had to do was obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to
the army, avoid any sign of political heterodoxy, and look the
other way when unions were busted and troublesome people disappeared.
Since many "middle Americans"
already obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to the
army, are themselves distrustful of political heterodoxy, and
applaud when unions are broken and troublesome people are disposed
of, they probably could live without too much personal torment
in a fascist state...
It is sometimes argued by those who deny the imminence of American
fascism that we are more free today than ever before. One's ability
to accept such reassurance partly depends on the class conditions
and life chances that one confronts. The affluent individual whose
views fit into that portion of the American political spectrum
known as the "mainstream" (from rightist Republican
to centrist Democrat) and whose political actions are limited
to the standardized forms of participation- informal discussion,
television viewing, newspaper reading, and voting-is apt to dismiss
the contention that America is fascistic. But those who oppose
the existing political orthodoxy and who find themselves under
surveillance and subjected to the intimidations, harassments,
and sanctions of the U.S. national security state have a less
sanguine view. '
The FBI and local police Red squads are once again spying, burglarizing,
disrupting, and otherwise targeting various organizations that
work for social justice, peace and disarmament, or environmentalism.
During the 1980s almost two hundred organizations were labeled,
not communist fronts as during the repressive McCarthy era of
the 1950s, but "terrorist fronts," including Martin
Luther King Jr.'s own Southern Leadership Conference and various
church and student organizations.
In the last two decades one of the fastest growing markets has
been in guns, clubs, helmets, bulletproof vests, and other items
of domestic warfare sold to law enforcers, and the fastest growing
area of public employment has been police and prison guards. The
prison populations in most states have grown exponentially, mostly
with small-time drug users. By 1995-96, California was spending
more on prisons than on education.
This is not to assume that the police
are busy fighting crime. For all their new equipment and personnel,
they do little if anything to stop the big drug traffickers, slumlords,
sweatshop operators, mobsters, corrupt politicians, spouse beaters,
child abusers, rapists, muggers, hate mongers, and others who
prey off the most vulnerable among us.
The real function of the police is social
control. Their job is to keep in line those elements that might
prove potentially troublesome to the powers that be.
The social control function of law enforcement operates on three
levels within inner-city communities and among potentially "troublesome"
populations. First, there is the street-level repression provoked
and perpetrated by too many police officers, who use their badges
and guns as a cover for venting their racist animosities and personal
distortions. All this is a matter of public record, with case
after case of police brutality and case after case of settlements.
And for every brutality victim who wins damages there are many
who never make it into court.
Second, there is the mass trafficking
in narcotics, in which the police play an active role as distributors
along with federal agencies, such as the CIA, that are linked
directly to overseas traffickers. This too is a matter of public
record, with findings by three different congressional committees
and sworn testimony by pilots who have flown narcotics and weapons
shipments for the CIA.
On the third level are the coordinated
systematic efforts by federal, state, and local authorities to
undermine community protest organizations, because the powers
that be prefer demoralized, divided, disorganized, and drug-ridden
populations to people who are politicized and who mobilize for
collective action and /radical change.
It seems that the ability of most middle-class whites to perceive
the fascist features of American society is seriously blunted
not only by their class experiences but by the aura of familiarity
and legitimacy that enshrouds the established political culture.
In making comparisons between their society and others, they tend
to employ a double standard. Thus the organized forms of police
violence in America are seen as isolated, aberrant happenings
on the infrequent occasions they are publicized- rather than as
inherent manifestations of our social order. But the same practices
in certain other lands are treated as predictable components of
The Nazi invasion of Poland is fascism
in action; the American invasion of Vietnam is a "blunder"
or at worst an "immoral application" of power. The indoctrination
of children in Nazi Germany into the myths and rituals of the
nation-state is seen as characteristic of fascism; but our own
grade-school indoctrination replete with flag salutes, national
anthems, and history books espousing the myths of American superiority
is "education for citizenship." Many social arrangements
and happenings that would evoke strongly negative sentiments if
defined as products of a totalitarian state become, by their proximity
and cultural familiarity, no cause for alarm when practiced at
The collusion between Center and Right is understandable. Despite
their differences in emphasis and methods (differences that are
not always to be dismissed as insignificant) the Center and Right
share a common commitment to the ongoing corporate class structure,
and conservative institutional authority.
Those of us designated as "extreme leftists" actually
want rather moderate and civil things: a clean environment, a
fair tax structure, use of social production for social needs,
expansion of public sector production, serious cuts in a bloated
military budget, affordable housing, decently paying jobs, equal
justice for all, and the like. There is nothing morally extreme
about such things. They are "extreme" only in the sense
of being extremely at odds with the dominant interests of the
status quo. In the face of such gross injustice and class privilege,
considerations of social justice and betterment take on the appearance
of "extreme" measures.
Nor does it follow that those who occupy
the center of any political spectrum are thereby incapable of
the kind of brutal, repressive, destructive, intransigent actions
usually associated with fascist extremists. It was not the John
Birch Society that tried to bomb Indochina into the Stone Age,
nor was it the American Nazi Party that perfected napalm and put
thalidomide in the defoliants used throughout Indochina. And today
it is not the skinheads and Klan that maintain the death squads
and other homicidal operations throughout so much of the Third
World. It is the best and the brightest of the political Center
(with plenty of help from rightists).
Throughout history there has been only one thing that ruling interests
have ever wanted -and that is everything: all the choice lands,
forests, game, herds, harvests, mineral deposits, and precious
metals of the earth; all the wealth, riches, and profitable returns;
all the productive facilities, gainful inventiveness, and technologies;
all the control positions of the state and other major institutions;
all public supports and subsidies, privileges and immunities;
all the protections of the law with none of its constraints; all
the services, comforts, luxuries, and advantages of civil society
with none of the taxes and costs. Every ruling class has wanted
only this: all the rewards and none of the burdens. The operational
code is: we have a lot; we can get more; we want it all.
With the rollback of communism, the politico-economic
circles that preside over this country no longer feel they need
to tolerate any modus vivendi with those who work for a living.
Instead of worrying about lowering unemployment, as during the
cold war, corporate elites now seek to sustain a relatively high
level of joblessness in order to weaken unions, curb workers,
and attain growth without inflation.
Growth without inflation sounds pretty
good. But meanwhile we are witnessing the Third Worldization of
the United States, the economic downgrading of a relatively prosperous
population. Corporate circles see no reason why millions of working
people should be able to enjoy a middle-class living standard,
with home ownership, surplus income, and secure long-term employment.
They also see no reason why the middle class itself should be
as large as it is.
As the haves would have it, people must
lower their expectations, work harder, and be satisfied with less.
The more they get, the more they will expect and be able to demand,
until we will end up with a social democracy-or worse. Better
to keep them down and hungry with their noses to the grindstone.
For the ruling interests, it is time to return to nineteenth-century
standards, the kind that currently obtain throughout the Third
World specifically, an unorganized working populace that toils
for a bare subsistence; a mass of unemployed, desperate poor who
help to depress wages and serve as a target for the misplaced
resentment of those just above them; a small, shrinking middle
class that hangs on by its bleeding fingers; and a tiny, obscenely
rich owning class that has it all.
The haves are pulling out the stops. For
them, it's time to cutback drastically on such luxuries as education,
medical care, libraries, mass transportation, and other publicly
funded human services, so that people will have the opportunity
to learn how to take care of themselves. Time to do away with
unions, business regulations, minimum-wage laws, occupational
safety, consumer safety, environmental protections, and taxes
on investment income. All these things cut into profits. Every
dollar that goes into the public sector is one less for the private
sector. And the haves want it all.
Along with the decline in working and living conditions in the
United States and other Western nations, there has come an economic
collapse in many Third World nations. This development too has
been accelerated by the collapse of communism.
During the cold war era, U.S. policymakers
sought to contain communism by ensuring the economic growth and
stability of anticommunist regimes. But Third World development
began to threaten U.S. corporate profitability. By the late 1970s,
governments in Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, and other
nations were closing off key sectors of their economies to U.S.
investment. In addition, exports from these countries were competing
for overseas markets with U.S. firms, including within the United
States itself. At the same time, growing numbers of Third World
leaders were calling for more coordinated effort to control their
own communication and media systems, their own resources, markets,
air space, and seabeds.
By the 1980s, U.S. policymakers were rejecting
the view that a more prosperous, economically independent Third
World would work to the interests of U.S. capitalism. Instead,
they sought to subordinate the economies of Third Word nations
by rolling back development programs and weakening the political
efficacy of their governments. The goal has been to create a world
free for maximizing profits irrespective of the human and environmental
costs. And there no longer is a competing communist world to which
Third World leaders might threaten to turn.
One rollback weapon is the debt. Third
World governments are burdened with huge debts and desperately
strapped for funds. In order to meet payments and receive new
credits from the U.S.dominated World Bank and International Monetary
Fund (IMF), these governments have had to agree to heartless "structural
adjustments;" including reductions in social programs, cuts
in wages, the elimination of import controls, the removal of restrictions
on foreign investments, and the privatization of state enterprises.
Such measures are ostensibly designed
to curb inflation, boost exports, and strengthen the fiscal condition
of the debtor nation. By consuming less and producing more, debtors
supposedly will be better able to pay off their debts. In fact,
these structural adjustments work wonderfully for the transnational
corporations by increasing the level of exploitation and boosting
profit rates. They also leave the economies and peoples of these
various countries measurably worse off. Domestic industries lose
out to foreign investors. There is a general deindustrialization
as state enterprises fall by the wayside or are handed over to
private owners to be milked for profits. Many small farmers lose
their import protections and subsidies and are driven off the
land. Unemployment and poverty increase along with hunger, malnutrition,
and various attendant epidemics and diseases.
In time, Third World countries like the
Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico slip deeper into the desperately
absolute poverty of what has been called the "Fourth World,"
already inhabited by countries like Haiti and Zaire.
Los Angeles Times (6/13/95)
"With the decline of the Soviet threat, [foreign] aid levels
fell off. . . Measured as a percentage of gross national product,
the United States gives the least assistance of all industrialized
nations, less than .02 percent.
Michael Parenti page